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Meditation - A Short Introduction

There are many different types of meditation, and meditation is not exclusively a Buddhist practice. Meditation has been widely practiced in Buddhism for over 2,500 years and is considered the best way to get to know your own mind, so that you can make deep, lasting changes, and achieve your own lasting happiness.

Some frequently asked questions about meditation:

What is meditation?

The Tibetan word for meditation is 'gom', which means to get used to (familiarize) or 'to make oneself known'. Meditating means adopting positive and realistic attitudes about ourselves. Meditating isn't so much about sitting cross-legged and having a "holy" expression on our faces. No, it is mainly an attitude of our mind looking inward. In fact, there is no labeling of a Buddhist in Tibet, it simply refers to someone who looks inside for their answers to their questions and problems. Even if we are physically in the perfect posture, we are not exactly meditating if our mind is restless and randomly jumps from one subject to another. We often have confused and hasty thoughts. Through meditating, you transform these uncontrolled thoughts and views, so that they are more in line with reality and your mind becomes calmer and more serviceable. You become the boss of your own mind. Instead of restlessness and anger, we can feel more compassion and love. We are often caught up in our own confusing reality and we are full of emotions and prejudices about ourselves and the world around us: with meditation, we can create the space and clarity we desire in our own mind.

"Don't think that exploring and understanding the nature of your mind is just an oriental 'trip'. That's a wrong idea; it's not an oriental trip, it's your trip. How can you change your body, or the image? Have you ever separated yourself from your mind?
Through thorough research you can realize that if your whole life is devoted to seeking happiness through things like chocolate and ice cream, it doesn't really matter that you were born human. Birds and dogs have the same attitude in life. If you think you are intelligent you would dedicate your life to goals higher than chickens!
A strong jet plane needs a good pilot; your mind-pilot should be wisdom, who understands the nature of your mind. Then you can send powerful energy to improve your life, instead of running around uncontrollably like a wild elephant destroying yourself and others."
Lama Thubten Yeshe (from 'Be your own therapist')

Can meditation be dangerous? Can it drive you crazy?

If we learn to meditate from a genuinely qualified teacher, who teaches in a responsible way, based on proven Buddhist methods, and we follow these directions, then there is no danger whatsoever. After all, meditation is simply the gradual building of increasingly positive state of mind. However, it is considered unwise for a beginner to do exercises that are intended for advanced practitioners. As long as we follow a reliable teacher and path in a gradual way, and follow the instructions mindfully, then absolutely anyone can become a Buddha.

So, in order to meditate, we must first receive reliable directions from a skilled teacher with knowledge and experience. Do not think that you can teach yourself to meditate on your own. This is never recommended. You can easily teach yourself harmful thinking patterns and habits. Learning a profoundly different way to approach your own mind and life is a serious undertaking. It is therefore in your own best interest to listen to teachings from a reliable and qualified source, such as the Buddha. These teachings have been tested for centuries by great masters and skilled practitioners of meditation, and they've realized the fruits of the Buddha's teachings. From this perspective we can determine that the Buddhist tradition of teaching and meditation works and is therefore worth practicing.

Today, there are many people teaching meditation and different spiritual paths, but it is good to know who you are actually dealing with, and to not jump in too quickly and uncritically. When the meditation practice has been taught by Buddha himself, and passed down through pure and unbroken lineages for thousands of years, then you can have some faith that you can trust it. Buddhism is not an exercise that was invented by a random person, who may have no idea of possible adverse effects, and may be concerned with profit and fame primarily. Be very careful in choosing a teacher.

How do you learn to meditate? What types of meditation are there?

The traditional way is that you listen to the lessons first. Then you immerse yourself in the lesson by thinking about it. You then integrate this understanding into your own mind stream through meditation. For example, you listen to lessons on how to develop unbiased love for all beings and you start thinking about how that is possible. In this way you learn to understand every step of the practice. You build a positive state of mind by integrating it into yourself. You practice the different steps that lead to experiencing that unbiased love, and eventually this love becomes part of your way of thinking and being. It's all quite logical, which is one of the reasons that Buddhism has been called 'the religion of logic'.

Buddha taught a wide variety of meditation techniques. These traditions persist to this day. There are two general types of meditation:

  • meditation to develop concentration (shamatha) and
  • meditation to develop analytical skills and wisdom (vipassana).

In addition, for example, you can also do simple meditations to calm your mind and free yourself from your normally busy, uncontrolled thoughts, by consciously following the breath. This helps you to be calmer in everyday life and to worry less.
Other meditations can help you manage specific issues in yourself such as anger, attachment, or jealousy, by developing a positive and realistic attitude towards other people.
There are purification meditations to clear the impressions made from negative activities (karma) and even meditations to stop nagging guilt feelings. In some meditations, you see the fantasies you harbor about who you, are and then you are able to build a more realistic, self-confident and positive self-image. These are just a few examples of the different types of meditation within Buddhism.

What are the benefits of meditation?

Your own mind - your stream of thoughts and feelings - determines how you feel and that is often independent of your immediate circumstances. For example, if you're worried about something that might happen or feel a little down, it's mostly your own mind that triggers this feeling. As you learn to control your mind, you will gradually be able to choose how you feel. Nobody wants to be unhappy, right?

Just as we can train our bodies to be fit, so can we train our minds. In fact, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said that this comparison is quite good, but with one main difference: there is a limit to how much we can train our bodies, whereas with our minds, the possibilities are limitless! We cannot prevent all the problems of life, but with a healthy mind and body we are much better able to handle difficult situations.

You can also look at meditating from a broader perspective than just for your present happiness in this life. The motivation to meditate can also be because you want to prepare for future lives or because you want to achieve liberation from the cycle of recurring problems (rebirth), or to achieve complete enlightenment for the well-being of all sentient beings.

If future well-being is your motivation to meditate, then your mind will also become peaceful and calm in the here and now. Moreover, with a broader motivation you will be able to achieve these higher inner goals. It is very beneficial to meditate regularly, even if you only do it for a short period of time every day. It is often said that just meditating for 5-10 minutes a day can make an enormous, positive difference in your life.

In order for meditation to help you, you should set aside some time each day. Even if you don't feel like meditating, it is nice if you reserve a piece of "silence" for yourself every day. Take a moment each day to sit still and think about what you are doing and why or read a portion of a Dharma book or recite a holy text daily.

It is extremely important that you learn to love yourself and that you are comfortable and happy even when alone. Especially in modern society, where people are so busy, it can be really beneficial to take a break from time to time, preferably in the morning, before the business of the day begins.

We always have time to nourish our bodies; we normally never skip a meal because we understand the importance of eating. Likewise, it is good to take some time each day to nourish our minds, as this is at least as important for a happy life as our bodies.

Meditation at the Maitreya Institute

Meditations at both of our centers are led by experienced teachers and advanced students, in Amsterdam on weekdays and in Loenen on Tuesday evenings. On these mornings and evenings, you can join in and learn to meditate without registering. Meditation is also often an important part of our course programs. In addition, there are regular extra meditation days and retreats in Amsterdam and Loenen. See also the Program Calendar.

As a continuation, see the page: Precepts and vows